By Philip Ridley; Directed by Scott Elliot
Produced by The New Group
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 9.27.15
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.19.15
Jack DiFalco, Tony Revolori, Peter Mark Kendall, Sea McHale, and Zane Pais in Mercury Fur. Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: Buckle your seat belts. Mercury Fur is one hell of a play.
Ok, folks. Here’s the deal. Mercury Fur, and I think proudly so, is not for everyone. Just in terms of language alone you’re going to hear an f-bomb just about every other word, and this somehow starts to feel clean considering what else is in store. You’ll also get certain bro-rific phrases (like, “you wanna do, dude, do”) that, for me, are just as offensive as some f’s and c’s.
Existing in some kind of charm-less future world, Philip Ridley has created a napalm-laden war that’s put out power. We’re inside an abandoned apartment complex somewhere in New York. The design team has taken this aesthetic and turned the volume up about as high as it can go, transforming Signature’s normally very classy venue into a dirty, graffiti-strewn, boarded-up room. We sit in disparate types of seating: broken couches, armchairs, wooden chairs (with cushions at least, because let’s not get too crazy.) It’s wonderful, erasing all traces of what’s normally there and undoubtedly stretching the limits of The New Group’s residency with Signature this season.
This immersive design isn’t all too welcome, as this world isn’t really one in which you’ll want to be too close. In this future world it seems the poor can only survive by profiting from the rich (well, maybe that's the case now as well). Two brothers, Elliot (in this harsh environment, an at times distractingly attractive Zane Pais) and Darren (an empathic Jack DiFalco) move into this apartment in order to host a party, the stakes of which are not immediately clear and seem debauched, albeit innocent enough. How wrong we are. “Neighbor” Naz (played with off-putting charm by Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel fame) befriends the brothers, revolver in belt. Through his earnest eyes, Revolori brings a kind of odd hope to this production. And Paul Iacono’s Lola, as the dutiful assistant for the party, has a funny sort of moral code that allows us to somehow cheer her on.
Ominous violence always looms in Mercury Fur, mixed equally uncomfortably with rampant and slightly inexplicable homoeroticism. In the midst of an explosive fury of preparations for the party, host Spinx (convincingly played by Sea McHale) leans in for unrequited kiss with Elliot. At another point, Naz rather offhandedly asks Darren to jerk off with him. Has everyone in this wartime started resorting to sexual gratification anywhere they can get it? Is everyone seeking intimacy in the wake of destruction? I’m not sure I’m convinced.
But then it gets way worse. This party involves a Party Piece—a human being played by Bradley Fong, who can’t be older than twelve. The Party Piece is the main attraction for Spinx’s rich Party Guest, played by the embodiment of white privilege Peter Mark Kendall. The plans for the Party Piece uncomfortably evoke that dentist who recently shot that lion, but worse; I’ll let you check it out for yourself.
Make no mistake, Mercury Fur is a powerful production, due in part to Scott Elliot's direction. In addition to the epic set, there is some beautiful, naturalistic restraint shown with Jeff Croiter's lighting design, rounded off by some explosive pyrotechnics at the end. There is certainly assistance here by sound designer M.L. Dogg, who also peppers some annoying, fly-in-the-ear type feedback throughout the production. The final moments of the play are executed brilliantly with an important, palpable silence where a gunshot should be heard. I heard some uncomfortable laughter and chatter in this lingering silence that can only be considered rewarding payoff for this design and directing team.
This is a play that should come with more than a strobe light and cigarette warning. If you have any triggers for child abuse or violence this isn’t for you. If you’re into two hours of nonstop, full throttle, truly terrifying theater, Mercury Fur isn’t to be missed. This is a play about the extent we’ll go to survive in the most brutal of circumstances. And our very means of protection can also be the thing that most harms us. As Ridley writes, “grow up and put your gas mask on.” These are ultimately young boys in the midst of something much larger than they have imagined, surviving and protecting things to which they are the closest. It’s hard not to see the humanity in that.
(Mercury Fur is presented at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through September 27, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2 and 8, Sundays at 2. Tickets are $27-$97 and can be purchased online at www.thenewgroup.org or by calling 212.279.4200.)